Cat Scratch Disease

Cat Scratch Disease

Here is an article about “Cat Scratch Disease” from Dr. Edward Wu, a contributing writer for Itchmo:

Cat Scratch Disease
Edward C. Wu, MD

No, you shouldn’t get rid of your cat. But, do be on the lookout for swollen lymph nodes and a rash if you’ve been bitten or scratched by a cat.

Believe it or not, “Cat Scratch Disease” (CSD) is the actual name of the disease. Caused by a group of bacteria (usually Bartonella henselae), CSD can occur in healthy individuals. It affects fewer than 1 in 10000 individuals. Most cases occur in individuals under 21 years of age.

CSD usually starts within two weeks of a cat bite or scratch. Common symptoms are a rash and swollen lymph nodes that develop near the actual scratch or bite. Individuals can also experience fever, visual changes, or joint pains.

Thankfully, most CSD infections in healthy individuals go away on their own. However, some individuals develop complications, requiring antibiotics to treat the infection. If untreated, serious cases can affect the nervous system, heart, and liver. We don’t know why some individuals have a worse case of CSD than others.

So, if you think you have CSD, should you stay at home and “ride it out?” No. Current medical recommendations are to treat CSD with antibiotics. Your doctor can check for CSD in your blood and give you the right antibiotics. Also, you don’t need to go to a specialist, since most internal medicine or family physicians are aware of this disease.

Can you catch it from Fido? Rare cases of dog-related CSD have been traced back to flea bites, since these fleas can jump from cats to dogs.

Does cat cleanliness reduce CSD? While it is recommended to keep all your pets clean, there is no need to wash the bacteria out of your cats and kittens, since cats are a natural reservoir for Bartonella henselae.

4 Responses to “Cat Scratch Disease”

  1. Velvet's Dad says:

    Dr. Wu is an MD, not a vet. So, when he says cats are common carriers, not to be concerned, he is only partially right.

    Bartonella is a common infectious–and often dormant–disease in cats, especially those that come from shelters. The reason is that the disease is spread by fleas.

    Dr. Wu is wrong to say not to be concerned. If left untreated, the disease can eventually play havoc with the cat, causing ocular and renal failures among others. Unfortunately, there is no direct test for Bartonella. However, the National Veterinary Laboratory in NJ does have a test, albeit an indirect one. If the cat tests positive, there are a couple of medications your vet can recommend. The more effective is probably azithromycin, given orally for 21 days. The cat then should be re-tested six months following the end of the medication. Azithromycin is about 85% effective, first time around.

  2. Edward C Wu, MD says:

    Dear Velvet’s Dad:

    Thanks for your input. I’m not a vet, and as a result, I try to offer some opinions from the medical (human) community here on Itchmo. I am assuming you are a vet, and your points are very well taken.

    I actually never said that we should not be concerned about this disease. I do clearly believe that it is something that needs to be addressed by health care professionals - both vets and physicians - if a pet owner suspects CSD.

    To health!

  3. Kay Williams says:

    My immuno-suppressed daughter (23 yrs.) has been ill since the first of the year: swollen glands, headaches, dizziness, abdominal pain, nausea/vomiting, severe joint pain, and has carried a low-grade fever the entire time. she now has “lumps” forming under her skin, with strange darkening “rash” on her arms, near the site of several cat scratches. We both have had a TOTAL lack of energy, and during the initial onset, slept almost around the clock. I did not get ill until 2 months ago, with pretty much the same symptoms, but less swelling in my lymph nodes. My first thought was that we had contracted a Chlamydial infection, after one of our 2 cats was diagnosed with this infection in his eye…he had had runny eyes and nose, with sneezing, since we got him a little over a year ago. We both took one round of 500 mg. Z-Pak, two weeks ago, with some improvement in the week that followed, however, symptoms seem to be returning. I believe that I am slowly getting over this, but my daughter, who has CAH (Congential Adrenal Hyperplasis), seems to be getting worse. (She takes 2 daily medications for her disease that are steroidal components, which have affected her immune function all of her life.) She is home, with the cats, all day, every day.
    I saw an Infectious Disease doctor (Dr. Batteiger) at Indiana University Hospital, one week ago, and will get lab results this Thursday. I know that he tested my blood for both Chlamydia and the bacteria that causes CSD. I would like to know if you have any further advice…..many thanks, Kay Williams (Indianapolis).

  4. allison says:

    How do u know if ur dog has cat scratch fever? My dog has been scratched by 2 cats a few times and i just want to know how can u determine if the dog has caught it? What are some signs that the dog has cat scratch fever?


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